Most of the art and science of marketing was developed to address the needs of large consumer markets. These methods evolved to drive transactions in a retail setting. Consequently, consumer marketing methods are blatantly unsuited to meet the complexity of business buying decisions. You cannot use consumer methods to develop long-term relationships with business buyers.
As Adam Needles says in his book Balancing the Demand Equation:
Attend an average MBA marketing class, or read a few of the case studies that predominate in business news and marketing journals. It’s consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer … all the time … and the marketing tactics that accompany this focus are largely short-sighted and tactical.
The differences between consumer marketing and business marketing
How do business marketing methods differ from the way we sell to consumers? In Debra Murphy’s post on consumer versus business marketing, she lists the characteristics of each.
- Product driven
- Maximize the value of the transaction
- Large target market
- Single step buying process, shorter sales cycle
- Brand identity created through repetition and imagery
- Merchandising and point of purchase activities
- Emotional buying decision based on status, desire, or price
- Relationship driven
- Maximize the value of the relationship
- Small, focused target market
- Multi-step buying process, longer sales cycle
- Brand identity created on personal relationship
- Educational and awareness building activities
- Rational buying decision based on business value
The problem with consumer marketing for a B2B business
What happens when companies apply consumer marketing methods to establish business-to-business relationships?
- They fail to educate and build trust with the buyer before talking about their product.
- They focus too much on price and not enough on creating urgency around buyer pain.
- They invest too much in the initial sale and not enough in expansion of the relationship with the buyer.
How can you avoid these errors? How can knowledge of the difference between consumer and business marketing inform your strategy and tactics?
Three principles of business marketing
If you stay focused on the following three principles, you’ll be a long way toward alignment of your marketing practices with your business buyers and their patterns of buying.
1. Understand your buyer’s journey. Business buyers move from being unaware of a problem to awareness to investigation. The journey doesn’t end once they make a decision to solve the problem and make a purchase. Their journey continues as they implement the solution and integrate it into their organization.
Study the buyer’s journey. Understand what they need at each stage to acquire the trust, understanding and motivation to move to the next stage. Create personas so you can learn about your buyers in enough detail to create value for them at each stage of their journey.
The first sale is just a way to initiate your relationship. Continue to build that relationship by creating value that causes the buyer to expand the use of your product. They can expand their use of your product across their organization. And they can increase the number of products they use from your company. This is where the real opportunity with business marketing and selling resides. Building and expanding your relationship with existing customers costs much less than what you pay to acquire a new customer.
2. Help buyers make a rational decision. When businesses make a purchase, it’s not about coupons and sales. Businesses spend money because they want to solve a problem—they want to improve productivity, reduce losses, retain skilled workers, make better products, or acquire more customers. Often multiple people are involved in the sale. Approvals must be obtained. Consensus must be reached. That’s why buyer education is so important. Buyers need to understand the industry context for your solution to the problem. They need to understand the logic for your pricing. They need to understand how the benefits outweigh the costs.
3. Lower the buyer’s perception of risk. The purchase must fit into the way that the buying organization currently does its work. The more you can make it easy to integrate into the way they already do their work, the easier it is for a buyer to move forward with a purchase decision. As Seth Godin says, if I’m a buyer and a project seems risky and difficult, I’m “going to work hard to begin diminishing the problem in my mind, because no one finds it easy to walk around with a difficult problem.”
Successful business marketers make a clear distinction between consumer marketing and business marketing. They align their practices with their buyers’ needs and methods of buying. They pay attention to their buyer’s journey, they help buyers make a rational decision, and they lower their buyer’s perception of risk.